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tv   Charlie Rose  WHUT  July 27, 2012 11:00pm-12:00am EDT

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>> rose: welcome to the program. tonight, a summertime encore presentation of our conversation with robert caro, author of the "the years of lyndon johnson," "passage of power." has your opinion of him evolved? or is it just he's evolved? >> yeah, that's such a good question. my opinion of him hasn't changed. he's still the same lyndon johnson. i mean, his character was formed in this terrible boyhood. he doesn't change. the first two books are basically about a man who is desperate, hungry for power and he wants to get it. he'll steal an election. he'll do whatever i say he did in the first two books to get it.
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but in the third book, he has it. he becomes the majority leader. the one thing i believe is that power reveals. you know, lord acon says all power corrupts. absolute power corrupts absolutely. i don't happen to think that's always true. what i think is always true is power reveals. johnson gets power and for the first time we see what he means to do with it. >> rose: robert caro for the hour, next.
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captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: robert caro is here. he is a two-time pulitzer prize-winning historian and biographer. he has spent more than 30 of his life chronicling the life of lyndon baines johnson.
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the year, the path to power. the years of lyndon johnson, master of the senate. and now this book. it is called "the years of lyndon johnson: the pass annual of power." it is the passage of power from president kennedy to president johnson. it is a remarkable book. columnist george will said when the multivolume series is complete, it will rank as america's most ambitiously conceived, assiduously researched and compulsively readable political biography. i am pleased to have robert caro back at this table. welcome. >> glad to be back. >> rose: "this engrossing volume span 1958 to 1964 is the fourth and presumably pen ultmat powell that began with "passage of power." it showcases mr. caro's gift as a writer, his propulsive sense
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of narrative, his talent to see and feel history in the making. of all the chapters in johnson's life, this is the one most familiar to most readers. mr. caro managed to lend even much-chronicled event, the cuban missile crisis and the kennedy assassination, a punch of tact tile immediacy. " for a writer that's pretty good, isn't it? >> it's wonderful. >> rose: why 1958? >> in book has a particular arc. in 1958, lyndon johnson is the mighty majority leader of the united states. >> rose: this is where you got to him in this volume. >> absolute. the second most powerful man in the country. he knows he has the 1960 presidential nomination locked up. >> rose: because he is the most powerful democrat in the country. >> right. he doesn't realize that there's this young senator, john f. kennedy, who is going around the country, often with a single
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aide-- ted sorrenceon-- in a small plane and he's such a great speaker wherever he goes people are asking him back and he's building up this base of support and he's fiending out who has the actual power in the state. and before johnson realizes what happened, kennedy has taken the nomination away from him. then we see in the same book, his years as vice president, which are terrible for him, humiliating, powerless. >> rose: this is 60-83. >> and of course with the crack of a bullet in dallas. the last half of the book is the seven weeks after kennedy's assassination. it's the most remarkable taking command of a presidency with no preparation probably in history. and by the end of it, he has not only gotten kennedy's civil rights and tax legislation started, but he started the nation on the war on poverty.
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>> rose: in fact he says in this book when someone says you're going to get into political trouble because you're doing this, he says what? >> when an aide says, "don't press for civil right, it's a lost cause." he says, "well, what the hell is a presidency for." >> rose: take me back to 1958. he lost because kennedy had outsmarted him politically and had gone and around was a good speaker and lots of other things. he had money to spend and he spent it well. he goes to the convention. >> yes. >> rose: and it's still not decided. >> absolutely. >> rose: kennedy wins. >> yes. >> rose: and then they decide to offer johnson the vice presidency. >> right. >> rose: bobby kennedy doesn't want that to happen. it lingered for the rest of johnson's life as a memory. >> yes. >> rose: what happened? >> well, to set the scene, they're both in the biltmore motel. the kennedy suite is on the
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ninth floor. johnson's is on the seventh floor, and there's a back stairs. bobby kennedy-- jack kennedy came down the stairs early in the morning. and offered-- in effect offered lyndon johnson the vise presidency. johnson said he had to think about it. jack kennedy goes upstairs and there's a bunch of northern leaders and they're congratulating him. he says in effect i think he'll take it. three times after that, that day, robert kennedy comes down those back stairs. three times he tries to get johnson to withdraw from the ticket. the first time he sees sam rayburn and john connolly. rae burn is the great speaker of the house and john connolly is lyndon johnson's top aide. and you know why johnson picked connolly to run his campaign? he said he's the only man tough enough to handle bobby kennedy. so bobby kennedy is there with rayburn and connolly and he
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says,un, there's going to be a terrible fight. the liberals don't want johnson. labor doesn't want him. how about if he accepts instead the chairmanship of the democratic national commit. and rae burn remyself in a four-letter expletive. bobby kennedy leaves and goes back upstairs. some time later that day, he comes down a second time. this time, he meets alone-- what happens is, he comes down, and each time he wants to meet with johnson. and lady byrd johnson, who knows how these two men hate each other, is basically saying, "lyndon don't meet with him." the second time, rayburn meets with bobby kennedy and it's quite a scene. he comes down, and john connolly who is tough, knows there's someone turf than him, and it's sam rayburn. and i write in the book, rayburn was old and rayburn was blind and as we soon were to find out he was very, very ill. but in that moment, he wasn't old or blind or ill.
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bobby kennedy says to him, "we think lyndon should withdraw." rayburn says to him, "are you authorized to speak for your brother?" and bobby kennedy says, "no." and rayburn draws himself up and says, "then come back and speak to the speaker of the house of representatives when you are." and the third time bobby kennedy meets with lyndon johnson alone. and we don't know really what happens because their accounts are so different. bobby kennedy says lyndon johnson started to cry and said he wanted to be on the ticket. johnson has a different story. but -- >> rose: what is johnson's story? >> johnson really says that he's asking "doesn't your brother want me?" and rayed burn intervenes and says to philip gray, the publisher of the "washington post" -- >> rose: who was close to both, the president and-- kennedy and johnson. >> correct.
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calls up there and jack kennedy says, "it's all set. i'm making my announcement right now. lyndon should go out and make his own announcement." johnson is in a distraught state. this is a moment where he's been on this roller coaster all day. and he says, "i don't know what to do." and philip graham says, "you go out there and make the announcement." and they sort of pushed lyndon and lady byrd out into the corridor where there's this jam of reporters and they put johnson up on a chair, and he makes the announcement and he is the vice president. >> rose: i've accepting the nomination of vice president. >> correct. >> rose: to be vice president. nominee for vice president. but he always remembered robert kennedy. >> he didn't forget it until the end of his life. when he's in retirement back on his ranch, he's out of the presidency. every-- visitor after visitor says, "you know what he wanted to talk about? that afternoon in los angeles. how bobby kennedy came down--"
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he used to say, "he came down three times to try to get me to craw." it was one of the most horrible moment in lyndon johnson's life. >> rose: they wanted him because they thought he could carry texas. >> and the south. eisenhower took texas by 200,000 votes in 1956. the republicans were strong in texas. and eisenhower had also carried four other southern states. kennedy knew-- and he was right-- if he didn't carry texas and get back some of the southern states, he wouldn't win. >> rose: so johnson in effect helped elect kennedy. >> that's one of the forgotten, absolutely forgotten chapters. because johnson makes a campaign through the south. he does an old fashioned whistlestop campaign. he pulls into all these southern towns. the yellow rose of texas is blaring. and the volume is turned up by bobby baker, his secretary of
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the senate, so it would pull into town and johnson would start speaking, you know, anded he'd give a speech, "we have to have a southerner on the ticket. let's not let the south be forgotten." the train would pull away. johnson wouldn't be finished talking. he once said in a town named cullpepper, as the train is pulling out he said, "what did dick nixon ever do for cullpupper?" >> rose: so they're elected and that begins the period you also chronicle here of what? vice president. >> johnson, you know, was was this very powerful man. the kennedys cut him out of power completely. he thinks when he takes the vice presidency that because of his gift for acquiring power, he says when someone says you won't have any power if you're in the vice presidency. he says, "power is where power goes," meaning "wherever i go
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there is power." he has underestimated jack kennedy completely and he makes a number of moves to try to get kennedy to give him power. he actually drafts an executive order, had an executive order drafted where he would have supervision over sell departments. he asked kennedy to give him the office next to him in the white house and his own staff. kennedy just ignores him, and johnson finds himself without power for three years. he is cut out of all power. although he's the greatest legislator probably of the century. >> rose: did he fear not being on the ticket in '64? >> yes. he was convinced in his own mind that john f. kennedy was going to drop him from the ticket in 1964. >> rose: and replace him with anybody we know? >> well, a name was mentioned, terry sanders-- but we don't really -- >> rose: i think that came from kennedy's secretary.
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>> and i have to say in every public statement, john kennedy said, "oh, he'll be on the ticket." but of course before we gave him the vise presidency, he said over and over again he won't be on the ticket. >> rose: so, therefore, what was the relationship between-- beyond the politics of staffs, between lyndon johnson and jack kennedy? >> well, you know, it's-- kennedy came to sort of be very worried about johnson. you know, jackie kennedy in later years wrote to ted sorenson and said you must remember how frightened my husband was at the prospect of lyndon johnson might succeed him. so the relationship changed because of a number of things. and by the end-- by the time jack kennedy is going to texas in november 1963, johnson is really convinced he's not going to be on the ticket. kennedy has made all these public assurances that he will
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be on the ticket. but two things are happening. kennedy is seeing for himself that the man who has the power in texas now might be john connolly, the governor. and in one of the incredible incidents in the book that i don't think anyone's written about before, kennedy has john connolly come up to washington to make the final preparations for the trip, and he doesn't invite johnson to the meeting. johnson hears -- >> rose: so it's kennedy and connolly. >> connolly alone. and johnson-- he knows connolly is coming up to washington. he doesn't know connolly is meeting with the president. he just knows he's going to be in washington. so he invites him to his house for dinner that night, and connolly, you know, comes and johnson meets him at the door and says something to the effect, "i guess you thought i wasn't interested in texas it." when connolly was talking to me about this, he said i said to-- i said to him,s what was
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johnson's demeanor?" and connolly said, "he was iritated." and i said to connolly, "irritated?" and he said something like, "hurt would be the word." here the preparations to for the trip to his own state were being made and johnson wasn't even consulted. the second thing that's happening, the bobby baker scandal is erupting in washington, and johnson's about to be implicated. >> rose: bob baker was his right-hand man in the senate when he was running for senate. >> so at the very moment that the motorcade is going through dallas, back in washington in a small room in the senate office building, a man is testifying who for the first time is going to link lyndon johnson to the bobby baker scandal, and he's producing documents and sliding them across the table, the documents that link johnson to the scandal. so this is happening at the moment that the motorcade is going by, and i write in the
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book that, you know, jawness-- kennedy's assurances that johnson would be on the ticket were given what he was seeing for himself in texas about johnson's lack of power, and given about the scandal which was about to erupt in washington about johnson, his assurances must start to have a very hollow ring. >> rose: also, as you point out, a magazine was getting ready to do an investigation of his financial circumstances and how he had gained control of television franchises in austin and-- >> that was happening at the same moment. life magazine-- lyndon johnson had no other job but being on the public payroll since he was one year as a high school teacher. yet, he had become a millionaire. >> rose: many times over. >> many times over. "life" magazine had found this out and had already run one article about it.
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and they had nine investigative reporters to look into this. they were all finding out about the johnson fortune in texas, and they had all been called back to new york to have a meeting in the office of the "life" executive editor-- "life "magazine's executive editor and they were going to decide whether to start running a series that very week. an article had been prepared to run in that very issue on what one of them called lyndon johnson's money. when a secretary runs in the first thing she says is, "the president's been shot." not killed. they don't know that yet. "the president's been shot." and all the reporters run back to their desk. all this is happening as the motorcade is going through dallas. >> rose: so the motorcade is in dallas. the shots ring out. lyndon johnson is in the second car or third car? >> third car. >> rose: john connolly is with the president. the shots ring out. the secretary of state dives on-- >> one shot. the third shot.
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everyone thinks, what is it? is it a fire cracker. connolly said to me, "i was a hunter all my life. i knew it was a hunting rifle." but with that first shot, the secret service agent, a man named rufusiarboro, who is the in front seat of johnson's car, whirls around and grabs johnson's shoulder-- actually his right shoulder-- and yanks him down on the floor of the backseat of the car, leaps over the front seat, andalize on top of him, shielding johnson's body with his own ands the car-- you know, now the president has been killed-- or at least fatally wounded. the cars are speeding toward parkland hospital. lyndon johnson is lying on the floor of the car with this man on top of him. he said,"i'll never forget his elbows in my back, his knees in my back." they pull into parkland hospital, and the agent says, "now, listen, mr. environment,"
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he says, "when this car stops, we're not stopping for anything. we're going in to that hospital and putting you in a secure place. don't look at anything and don't stop." and johnson, he's yanked out of the car by the secret service agents and run with four secret service agents around them and an agent behind them carrying an automatic rifle looking fair secure place in the hospital. they family put him in a little cubicle in the back of the-- it's called the minor medical section of parkland hospital-- and that's where johnson is standing for the next 40 minutes. he doesn't know what's happened to kennedy. >> rose: nobody is coming in and out? >> he can't get any information. everyone is saying, "the doctors are working on president kennedy. of so lady bird would talk about how for approximately 40 minutes, they stood there. johnson is standing against back wall. in front of him is the secret service agent. there's a little room between him and the corridor, and two
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more agents are there. another agent is outside at the door and yarborough has said, "don't let anyone in this room unless i know his face." after 40 minutes of rumor, jawness offense doesn't know what's happening, kenny o'donnell, who was very close to kennedy, a friend as well as an aide, walks in and lady bird wrote in her diary, "seeing the stricken face of kenny o'donnell who loved him, we knew." a moment later another kennedy aide comes in up to lyndon johnson and said, "mr. president." and it's the first time he's been called that. >> rose: so johnson reacts how? >> he is transformed, you know. when he was roaming around the senate floor and he was a figure, you know, of-- during the three years where he didn't have power it's like someone-- the lack of power almost made him ill. he lost this great amount of weight. he had this hangdog look like
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this. his suits were too big on him. his steps were shorter. as he is standing there, lady bird said it was like his face turned into a bronze image. people who knew johnson knew that this was what he was like in emergencies. and by the time the secret service agents come in to tell him to get to the plane, he is in charge. >> rose: and he basically said later that, "i felt like every-- i felt like they had to do this because america-- the world was looking to me." >> yes. he said, "it didn't matter what i felt, if i was afraid to take on the responsibilities or not--" not that i think he was. he said, "the world was looking to me. i had to reassure the country. i had to get off the plane--" they talk about the presidential transition period, 11 weeks, and they say it's too short for a president to learn how to assume power. lyndon johnson had basically two
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hours and six minutes. that's the length of the flight from dallas to washington. >> rose: to assume power of the presidency. >> he has to get off that plane and be president. and on the plane he writes down a list of the things that he has to do when he gets back to washington. and he gets off the plane and assumes command, and for the next three or four days, until president kennedy is buried, he gathers all the reigns of power into his hands and starts running the government. >> rose: mrs. kennedy is in the back sitting next to the casket. >> on the plane. >> rose: on the plane. and they say, "you have to take the oath of office now. of. >> oh, yes. >> rose: and how do they get her to come up? >> she is asked to come up, and she says, "i think i ought to do it." i forget her exact words but it's for history. she understood the person-- johnson wants her next to him because -- >> rose: he understands the importance of the symbol. >> and so, really, does she.
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>> rose: and so she comes up and we see that picture. and then the plane lands in washington. >> right. >> rose: and where does he go? >> first there's the horrible moment with bobby kennedy. >> rose: what's the horrible moment? >> well, he think he's going to follow the casket off. it's going to be brought out of the rear door of the plane. and he's made the arrangements, you know, the casket will come off and then mrs. kennedy will follow it, and he, lyndon johnson, and lady bird will follow it, so that the nation will in a sense see a symbol of continuity. that's not really what happens. because bobby kennedy, the minute the steps are put next to the plane, runs up the plane and pushes past johnson without-- without acknowledging him and basically organizes things in a different way so johnson is behind the group of secret service men. the casket comes off and the
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image you know and i know we all know. we see the lift coming down, and at first you see this long thing in front, and them you realize it's the casket. behind it is mrs. kennedy with her skirt covered with blood. next to her is bobby kennedy. the lift comes down, the coffin comes down, and there are no steps back at the plane. and lyndon johnson is left in the plane. and the casket is loaded into an ambulance. the ambulance drives-- heads off for bethesda and the autopsy, and johnson is still standing there. >> rose: does he go home that night? does he go home? >> well, first he is ordered on the plane-- because he knows-- i mean, he gives orders on the plane. one of them is have helicopters there to take him to the white house, who is to be in the helicopters. but he gets off the plane, and there's no podium.
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there's no-- what there is is 10 or 12 microphones on sticks in the middle of the tarmac, knlearg lights on it, helicopter engines going. you can hardly hear them. you can't picture a more undignified setting for a president. he finally comes down from the plane with lady bird. he resident a brief statement in a dignified, really calm, dignified, reassuring way. and then he gets into the helicopters. and the helicopters land on the south lawn of the white house. he doesn't go into the white house. he walks right by the oval office. off to the right is the cabinet room. there's one person sitting in there. it's ted sorenson who is so close to kennedy, sitting at the cabinet table crying. johnson walks right through the white house and over to his office, his vice presidential office in the executive office building, and that's where he runs-- he stays there for several hours doing things that
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night. and then he goes back to his home. >> rose: so then, he gathers around him. >> yes. >> rose: the people that had served him. >> yes. >> rose: yet, at the same time he's sensitive and needs the people who are around. >> exactly. he knows that-- in the first place the countrydoesn't really know lyndon johnson. he's been in obscurity for three years. the newspaper headlines had all been mocking, "whatever happened to lyndon johnson?" he knows that to reassure the country, he has to keep the kennedy people, and these are people who really-- the nickname he had among many of the kennedy people was rufus corn. they called him and lady bird uncle corn and his little pork chop. but he has to make them follow him. hoe has to keep them with him and make them follow him. and he does it. it's remarkable. >> rose: so he reaches out to the different cabinet members,
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mcnamara. >> mcnamara but-- mcnamara and rush -- >> rose: secretary of defense and secretary of state. >> correct. but also to the people like larry o'brien, and even sorenson, and ken o'donnell and says -- >> rose: "i need you." >> "i need you more than you needed you." >> rose: you had him bringing his own people in. bill moyers comes in, jenkins, george reed. >> rose: all those people who had served him. some had gone on, like moyers, but others had been working for him as vice president. >> but a small staff. the reality and what he says in his memoirs is, "i knew i had to keep them with me." and, you know, they laughed among themselves. they said he says to everybody, "i need you more than he needed you." but what they didn't realize was that this was a genius. he tailored that to arthur schlesinger the greatest
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historian. he said, "john kennedy knew history like you do. i don't know history. i need you for history." for someone else he said something tailored and they all stayed. >> rose: when did he begin to reach out to mrs. kennedy to comfort her? >> well, constantly. from the very-- you know, from the very beginning. >> rose: a telephone call here "what can i do?" they had to plan the funeral. >> he does even more than that. that very night-- you know, i said that night is remarkable. he gets back to washington, and there's so much on his plate. there's a memo there from budget director saying you know we're in the middle of-- we're in the middle of the budget process. you have-- i forget the date-- you have two weeks to sign off on the budget. but that night, he goes and gets two sheets of stationery from the oval office and he writes a letter to john-john, and he writes a letter to carolyn. he has the time to do that.
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it's like his mind-- i mean, if you're interested in power usay here's a man assuming all the reins of power and knowing exactly what to do. he's got so much-- it's unbelievable. like, when is there going to be a joint session they speak to? where are kennedy's bills, you civil rights bills and the tax cut bill. what can i do-- where exactly are they? and not just that first night, but over that weekend, friday night, saturday night, and sunday. he has to find out the situation and determine what to do about it. >> rose: he decides to move ahead vigorously. >> it's one of those nights. on one of those nights, he says what you-- the great-- the quote that you picked out. they're drafting his speech to the joint session of congress, and they're doing it in his home-- home called the elms-- and there are a bun of advisers
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sitting around table with copies of the speech and the big debate is, "shu even mention civil rights?" president kennedy proposed the civil rights bill and proposed the civil rights bill in june. the southerners in congress had bottled it up completely. and southerners controlled congress. they were saying, "don't bring up civil rights. it's a lost cause anyway." and that's when johnson says, "what the hell is a presidency for then?" >> rose: what's interesting about this is research. i'm going to take it forward in a moment. you found out that the secret service amies had to write in a detailed way when a terrible thing happened, they had to go and write their description of-- as they saw it of the event that had taken place. >> when i was doing this book i said, "god, there are hundreds of books on the assassination. and none of them go in a serious, detailed way into
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lyndon-- what was the assassination like from lyndon johnson's point of view. like what i was telling you about lying on the floor of the car, and the agent lying on top of him. you know, it was known but it really wasn't known. the time he spent in the hospital, very little was known about that. so i said, "where can i get information?" and then i came across the fact that-- it was a secret service rule then that if you were attached to the presidential or vice presidential detail, and there was a-- quote-- an incident-- and this was an incident-- involving the president or vice president-- you had to at your first opportunity to type up a report for the secret service headquarters in washington. i said can i see-- basically i said in the johnson library, "is there anywhere in this library the secret service reports? and they were all there. >> rose: yeah. that's what you do well. so now johnson is prepared to go to the country, and he's going to make this historic speech. who wrote the speech? >> well, ted sorenson wrote much
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of it. >> rose: ted sorenson wrote the speech? >> yeah, yeah, but johnson add his own touches to it. you know, it's like-- johnson appeals to sorenson. he basically says to you -- sorenson said i wanted to commit johnson to president kennedy's program. i wanted him to say, "i'm for civil rights. i'm for the tax cut." sorenson writes the speech and johnson writes on it his own words. like sorenson says things like, "we've been fighting for this civil rights bill for a year." johnson changes it to "all this long year." he emphasizes his own thing. he knows he can't give speeches well. all his life he's been rushing through speeches. so he writes on the speech-- it's one of the most poignant things i've seen. he writes "pause" ( paragraphs.
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and then he writes, "pause, pause," and he gives a great speech. >> mr. president, members of the house, members of the senate, my fellow americans, all i have, i would have given gladly not to be standing here today. the greatest leader of our time has been struck down by the foulest deed of our time. today, john fitzgerald kennedy lives on in the immortal words and works that he left behind. he lives on in the mind and memories of mankind. he lives on in the hearts of his
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countries men. no words are sad enough to express our sense of loss. no words are strong enough to express our determination to continue the forward thrust of america that he began. ( applause ) >> rose: johnson also began, he wants to pass civil rights, and yet the people that had put him in power in the senate-- >> yes. >> rose: were southern chairman. >> yes. >> rose: people like richard russell. >> yes, harry bird in virginia, john stenas from mississippi. >> rose: and all those people now, he had to say to them, "we're going to take forward a civil rights program." >> yes, and it's something to watch the news reels. they're all sitting in a row, wampinwatching this speech.
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this is the man they raised to power. >> rose: and he was younger than all of them. >> younger than-- yes. >> rose: johnson knew that by passing the civil rights bill that-- what did he say about the future of the democratic party in the south? >> well, he said with the second bill-- he said we're turning the south back to the republican party for 40 years. >> rose: and he was right. >> yes, yes he was. >> rose: how do you decide when to end it? this volume. >> well, you know, the last lines of this book really say, you know, that johnson had had all these things and made people dislike him, his rages, his bullying. but he knew he couldn't do this in this crisis, and he had kept these instings under control, vanished, for soviet weeks.
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and i said he had done it-- he wouldn't be able to do it more much longer, but he had done it long enough. that was the end of the book. i said i want to write a book-- this is supposed to be just the beginning of the whole book on his presidency. i said i'm interested in examining political power. if i stop it here, we are examining one kind of political power-- the passage of power. how does power pass from one administration to another? and what can an incoming president coin a crisis? and i decided to end it there. >> rose: become president from tragedy. >> from tragedy. >> rose: you decide to end it there. so the next book is, obviously, going to be the vietnam years, too. >> yes. it's going to be a very different book. >> rose: that is what's interesting. you were criticized by-- certainly the first book got a lot of criticism, fair enough? >> yes. >> rose: even though you won two awards. and some of this. this they began to spay-- you
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began to write about the powers and skills of mr. johnson and how he he was of the master of the senate. has your opinion of him evolved or is it just he's evolved? >> yeah. that's such a good question. my opinion of him hasn't changed. he's still the same lyndon johnson. i mean, his character was forked in this terrible boyhood. it doesn't change. but what he does change it's first two books are basically about a man who's desperate, hungry for power, and he wants to get it. he'll steal an election. he'll do whatever i say he did in the first two books to get it. but in the third book, he has it. he bottoms majority leader. the one thing i believe is that power reveals. you know, lord acin says, all power crumbs. absolute power corrupts absolutely. i don't happen to think that's always true. what i think is always true is power reveals. johnson gets power and for the
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first time we see what he means to do-- you know, in this book, when richard goodwin who was a kennedy man and then a johnson man-- he said something to johnson about using all this power for civil rights. and johnson says-- when he was in college, he taught mexican kids down by the border, and no one else was interested in them but him. and he said, "you know--" he says to goodwin, "you know, i swore them if i ever had the power to help these kids i would help them. and i'll tell you something, now i have the power and i mean to use it." so power revealed. the last two books about something very different than the first two books in a way they are the same man but it's really-- my opinion hasn't changed of him. >> rose: so the next book will be -- >> the ret rest of the presidenciy. >> rose: the rest of the presidenciy. and that's it? >> of course that's what i said
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about this book. i seem to remember being on your program when you were asking me if there would only be three. >> rose: i've asked it each time. is there one more volume. >> yes. >> rose: and you will finish this? >> yes. >> rose: and you believe you accomplished with these four and what is to come what? a study in-- >> well, you know, no one ever asks me that but i'm glad you asked me that. i don't regard any of my books-- the pure broker about robert moses-- it was just the story of the life of a great man. i never had any interest in doing that. i had an interest in examining political power and how political power works in the united states in the second half of the senary, first volume is about power in congressional districts. this is about the passage of power. if i-- and the last book will be about the tragedy-- the triumphs and the tragedy of lyndon lyndon
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johnson's presidency. i don't say i've succeed or will succeed in doing this, but what my aim is, if someone resident these they'll under more how democracy worked in america in the second half of the 20th century than they have before. >> rose: what price have you paid to spend your life writing books about power? >> well, the price hasn't been know-- i mean, there have been tough times you know. i mean, we were-- there have been tough times. >> rose: almost broke at one time. >> no, we were broke. i don't know what the definition of "broke" is, but we were broke. >> rose: because it took so long. >> yeah. but the price-- my wife, ina, who is the only researcher who helps me on this. she writes her own oooks.
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she's been on your program. she writes wonderful books about france. but she also does research for me, and she's been-- you know, if you have someone with you who's with you all the time, the price isn't that high. and i'm fascinated, i mean, i learn things eye mean, you understand-- i like to talk to you about power. it's a fascinating thing. it's fascinating to see what he does in this book. it's just-- like the civil rights thing. you say how did he get it moving? you say, you know, the southerners control congress, and this civil rights bill is bottled up. it's not even from the senate. it hasn't even gotten oaf to the place for the filibuster. it's been bottled up in the house rules committee whose chairman is judge howard smith of virginia. and they can't get it out of his committee. johnson knows that there's one lever that can get it out-- a discharge petition. it's almost never used.
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and i write in the book if there was only one lever, johnson was going to push it. and then you see-- and if there was only one lever he was going to put his weight behind it. ask you see him use this maneuver to get the civil rights bill made. it's just fascinating. >> rose: you write in long hand? >> yes. >> rose: still? ( laughs ). >> i do my first couple of drafts in long hand. >> rose: why do you do it that way because it flows from your brain to your manned better that way? >> not exactly. i write too fast and i want to slow myself down and make myself think more. >> rose: and what's the thing that throws you-- >> that throws me? >> rose: no, thrills you. what's the most satisfying part? is it writing the last sentence and handing it over to your publisher, or in the midst of the researcher? >> that's exactly what it is. i mean, if you spend time in the johnson library and you see how he's doing-- if you're interested in political power
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know-- you say, "this is the greatest-- he had a talent that was beyond the talent. it was genius. and you say, "my god, i can't believe he's doing this. you know? and look how-- and the last book-- and i remember saying it to you here-- i said, he gets the first civil rights bill passed in 1967 when the southerners have basically said it's not going to be passed and you watched him do it. that's the great thing, going through the papers, interviewing people. >> rose: it takes so long because -- >> rose: other people take a long time. steve jobs didn't take that long, but other books-- benjamin franklin took nine years i think. although no one believes this, i write very fast. but you can't rush the research. like, if there's something that you might call, you have to make the call. you know, you say how-- i was writing about the scene.
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i was about to write about the scene where johnson takes the oath and jacqueline kennedy is beside him. and i said who was in that room? i've talked to everybody i could think of-- valenti. i said who was in that room that you didn't talk to? and suddenly it came to me, the photographer. cecil stouton was his name. i said he must be about 90 years old. on the computer is the national phone director and there's cecil stouton. i think he's 89-- or was he 88 at that time. and i call and say, "mr. stouton. my name is robert caro, i'm writing books about mr. johnson." and she said, "cecil has been hoping you'd call." >> rose: that's great. i thought you were going to say cecil would answer the phone and say, "i was wondering when you would get to me." >> well, that would be-- you know, you love political power.
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when i was interviewing john connolly, in the morning-- he had a grand ranch, and he had a stable of quarter horses, and they'd be exer exercised in the morning and he'd come by my guesthouse where i was staying at 6:00, 6:30, and he sat on the fence and i asked him questions that we all wanted answers to and he would answer questions about how johnson going to things done. because he was coerce to him probably than anybody. this was a course of things i at least had never thought of. >> rose: of all the people who knew him, connolly was the closest you think? >> connolly was the guy who relied -- there were two guys. john connolly and a name no one knows, edward a. clark, who was called the secret boss of texas, who ran texas for johnson who he relied on both -- >> rose: did he make him an ambassador? >> to australia.
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ed clark and i, when he was alive, ed and anne and ina and i would have dinner every sunday night. and he would answer every question-- it was like he was giving the guy from the northeast a lesson in southern politics. >> rose: bill moyers? >> bill moyers has refused to talk to me. >> rose: why? >> you would have to ask him that. i've been trying to talk to him for, like, 30 years. at first he said he was writing his own book on lyndon johnson. but i think that's over. and recently he's just been saying that he doesn't have his thoughts in order and he wants to get-- you would have to ask him why he doesn't talk to me. >> rose: has anybody else close to him refused? >> off the top of my head, i think the answer is no. >> rose: valenti talked. >> valenti finally-- who really attacked the first two books more harshly than anyone else, finally said basically, i see what you're doing and i want to talk to you.
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george christian, lyndon johnson's last press secretary, basically called-- high had lung cancer and he was dying, and he basically said to me in effect, "i want to talk to you. i've been attacking you for however many years." so i went down there and to austin, and we had three interviews. he had lung cancer. and he had an oxygen tank in his office, and the first interview he only had to use the mask occasionally. then i talked to him a few days later. and his condition was deteriorating, and he had to use it a let. and then the third time he only talked to me for a little bit and then he said something like, "well, that's all i can do. you'll have to goat the the rest from other people. will. >> rose: you know the story. i knew john connolly, i knew all these people that you mentioned. >> sure. >> rose: and john connolly told me story once. we went to lunch and he told meal a story how lyndon johnson at the time hubert humphrey was
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getting the nomination for president in chicago, he sent him to chicago, johnson sent him, he said, to, what's going on and make sure that, you know, that humphrey-- i'm trying to remember this well. you probably kow this. >> actually, i'm not-- i'm not sure about it. >> rose: but basically said to him, he told me, johnson said, "you go to chicago. just make sure and keep why you were feet to the fire" with respect to vietnam at that time. he didn't change on vietnam until during the campaign as you know. >> no, johnson really kept his feet to the fire. >> rose: that's a story you'll be telling. he went back to texas after announcing he was not going to run, and the presidency ends and richard nixon is elected president. >> yes. >> rose: people say that he was ready to die. >> well, you know, there are --
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>> rose: he was in his 60s. >> yes, he dies at 64. >> rose: yeah. >> you know, there are a number of things that happened without my saying-- because i haven't arrived at a conclusion on that. you know, think of him in the white house. he has a wife and two daughters. outside on pennsylvania avenue, all through the last two years, people are chanting, "hey, hey, l.b.j., how many kids did you kill today?" you can hear those chants in the white house. he knows his daughters are hearing those chants. his wife is hearing those chants. horrible. un, he speaks to doris kearns in his retirement about that horrible song. he calls it "he, hate "hey, hey" that horrible song. before his heart attack which he had toe age of 47.
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he was a three-pack-a day smoker or more. he has this-- i don't know that i can tell this story-- but he has this heart attack, and it's down in virginia, and in the ambulance taking him to-- it's a massive hereto attack. he only had a 50-50 chance of living the doctor says. and he said to the doctor, "if i recover, i can smoke?" and the doctor says no, and he says, "well, i'd rather have my pecker cut off." but he has this great will power, and he doesn't smoke cigarettes until-- he lights up his next cigarette on the plane taking him back to texas after nixon is sworn in, and he smokes a lot until he dies. so you dont really know -- >> rose: he went back to smoking. >> yeah, went back to smoking. >.so i have to think a lot about the question you asked. but in retirement, you think of the circumstances, and no matter how you feel about lyndon
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johnson, it's a very poignant and sad story at the end. >> rose: did you love him? >> no, i don't think i love him. usually people ask, "do you like him or dislike him?" and the thing is i was thinking about that the other day. and i don't think that like and dislike are actually terms that apply -- >> rose: that a biographer uses. >> no, i wouldn't say that, but i would say, what i am, i'm interested in political power and he is so great at using it what i am is in awe of him. >> rose: did he understand political power better than anyone? >> i believe lyndon johnson understood political power in the senate and the presidency better than anyone else in the second half of the 20th century. >> rose: and his genius was he understood people. he knew their strengths. he knew their weaknesses. he knew their fears. he knew what it would take to reach inside of them and find
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out what button to push to make them bend to his will. >> boy, and you see that in these telephone conversations. you hear him working people around. >> rose: how smart was he? >> oh, unbelievably smart. i mean, unbelievably quick. you know, like on the senate floor, when he's running the senate, and there were more debates and there were more back-and-forth fights. he always knew the moment that he could win. he always knew the amendment that he could put in, you know. >> rose: what i have just done is set up the next book, which is the notion of a man so smart and who had smart people tell him how-- that the policy he was pursuing was wrong and would have awful consequences. on the other hand, a man who had been shaped by his experiences
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so that the balance between those two things overwhelmed him in the end. >> overwhelmed him. but also made, like, in this book, we see him. he's gotten kennedy's program moving with the civil rights and the tax cut bills. then he says really-- he says, "i've got to get some program of my own to put my stamp on the presidency." and he goes back on christmas december '63 to his ranch, where he was a boy was so poor, so humiliateds by his father's poverty, he creates the war on poverty. the genesis of it was in the kennedy administration but it hadn't really taken any form or gotten anywhere. he comes back from that ranch and makes the war on poverty speeches, first state of the union speech. that's why this book in effect ends there. and he says in this unbelievable line, too many americans live on the outskirts of hope. i mean, of that line.
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he says, "we're going to end poverty." think of the ambition of that. here's a president who says we're going to end poverty in the united states. so the circumstances of his youth really at the end of this book you say, "boy, look what he's done in seven weeks." >> rose: look what you've done in 30 years right here. one, two, three, four. thank you. >> my pleasure. >> rose: a masterful job. >> thank you. >>srose: robert caro for the hour. a study of lyndon johnson. this book "the passage of power" lyndon johnson in dallas succeeds a dead president and holds the country together. thank you for joining us. see you next time.
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